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• 

MERRILL MOORE 



97- 



CLINICAL 
SONNETS 

TWAYNE PUBLISHERS, inc. 

NEW YORK 4 



Copyright 1949 by Merrill Moore 



FIRST PRINTING 

November, 1949 

SECOND PRINTING 

March, 1950 

THIRD PRINTING 

October, 1950 



MANUFACTURED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 



7 



to 

MILTON STARR 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 
in 2013 



http://archive.org/details/clinicalsonnetsOOmoor 



Note to the Reader: 



The first time I realized that it was possible to use a son- 
net to portray a personality was about 1920, when I read 
"Aaron Stark," "Cliff Klingenhagen," "Flemin Helphen- 
stine," "Reuben Bright," "Shadrach O'Leary," and other 
poems by E. A. Robinson. I assume they referred to actual 
personalities, else they could hardly have been so authentic 
in tone, and so provocative in their sense of reality. 

After I read them I saw a gleam and began to try to fol- 
low it. My appreciation of Robinson's work rose further 
when I tried later to imitate what he had done, but my 
poems came out quite differently from what I aimed at 
when I began. 

I found that sometimes when I got a sonnet past the first 
three or four lines it would pick up some sort of momentum 
of its own and might then go on writing itself, impelled by 
associations and guided partly by rhyme. Some poems even 
got out of control and proceeded to write themselves after 
the first line. 

I found also that it is difficult effectively to compress 
anything so voluminous as a human personality into a short 
poem. So I realized that what I produced were sketches that 
can suggest, but cannot tell all, as if a painter were given 
the task of drawing a picture with ten or twelve strokes of 



his brush. It is possible, but the results show the earmarks 
of a special medium. 

Actually, these are experimental sonnets. They represent 
quick impressionistic efforts I have made to express some- 
thing I have felt to be essential in a situation as I saw it. 
Each poem is quickly (not hastily) recorded in the cogni- 
tion of an instant, lest the particles of the experience might 
fade, and before the structure of the sonnet ("a moment's 
monument") might crumble. But this work is not entirely 
improvisation. Most of these poems have been revised 
through various drafts; some have been rewritten over and 
over; and some, after unsatisfactory attempts on my part to 
revise them, have been written anew. Many have been 
discarded. 

One of my friends said, after he had read this book in 
manuscript form: "I don't see anybody here that I know. 
You must know a lot of very peculiar people." I do, and I 
think they would have to be somewhat peculiar, otherwise 
I would not want to write about them. Still, if you gathered 
all the characters in this book into one place, you would 
have just the sort of crowd that might collect anywhere to 
watch a fire, or to witness the departure of an ocean liner. 

Some people ask me: How do you read these poems? I 
answer: Conversationally, as if you and I were together, as 
if I were speaking them to you directly. These lines, usually, 
do not have feet of strictly chiselled iambic pentameter, but 
it is possible, I find, with a little practice, to read each line 
with a sort of cadence, giving it roughly five stresses, or 
five "beats." Some call this "a prose rhythm" and others 
call it "pedestrian verse." 

M.M. 

Boston 1949 



Contents 

When I heard them n 

She told me she had become a vaginal ear! 12 
Her mother (or someone) managed to do something to her 

that made her very much afraid of life 13 

Dr. A. B. C. D. left his money to his college 14 

You know what it means to be thoroughly satisfied? 
Well, she was that, and it was the first time. It had never 
happened to her before in her life. This experience she 
finally told me about. She was a stenographer, born in 
Idaho. She moved to Indiana when she was 17 and had 
worked there for 10 years for one company. 15 

Compulsive scholar, extraordinary latinist 16 

He told me that 17 

Now he is running a greek restaurant somewhere 18 

People change — they changed 19 

If you could boil their lives down to a few words 20 

If he could do something he really enjoyed himself 21 

He said that he was in a mood for angels but he never got 

to see them after all , 22 

Mrs. Broderick was a very unusual woman 23 

His Problem 24 

He never had much fun. He was afraid to — he took such 

a severe attitude towards his body 25 

When he was through telling me it was not hard to put the 
points of his memory on a chart and to draw the curve 
of his craving 26 

Item: murder 27 

Walter's demise 28 

His life was cut out for him (by himself) 29 

Lucretia is a spinster, very much 30 

There was something magical about her house, something 
reminiscent of a story book 31 



Chairman o£ the social service committee 32 

Lieutenant X 33 

Two Sisters 34 
When he was bored., when he had nothing to do he would 
daydream about the perfect house and carefully design its 
exact floor plan: sometimes in the mountains, sometimes 

by the sea 35 

Locked in a prison with an invisible key 36 

He was a different fellow after a few drinks 37 

Colonel Blank 38 

It was sad about her, she never got what she wanted: many 
women do but somehow she did not 39 

There was a lull in the continuum. The continuum had 
been stretched very 7 tight, almost to the point of breaking 

once but conversation continued naturally 40 

After he died 41 

Let me mention one 42 

His was a highly associative mind 43 

Life seemed not to age her as it did others 44 

She was a very intuitive woman — she said: "You know 
what I mean : " (Something about her face reminded me 
of Anubis). She said: "You won't believe me when I say 
I can tell how people are feeling far away." 45 

You have seen them 46 

One winter day, while travelling across the State 47 

I found the winter an intolerant and bigoted old woman 
with white hair 48 

Xo comment 49 

His ambition: to have a cocktail named for him. He talked 
about it for years to all his friends but he died before his 
ambition was achieved 50 

He was only an old clerk but a pitiful sight 51 

Barber, conversation with one 52 

There is usually a natural reason for everything one sees 
upon the streets — particularly the people one meets 53 



Conversation with Gertrude or as simple as that. She was a 
waitress in a night club in a loquacious mood who took 
it into her head to tell me how she picked her man. He's 
got to be a good spender or I won't go out with him. 
Tell me how you can tell if he's a good spender? Oh, I 
take care to see that he has a fat roll. 54 

Woeful woman 55 

He had something she wanted (or thought she wanted) 56 

He came to live in a kind of cosmic trance 57 

She was a fertile woman, a garden of herself; she lifted 

many species to the sun 58 

About once a year he got in all the newspapers because of 

something clever or amusing he said 59 

Old women sit by the windows waiting for 60 

He said: I believe that change is the aftermath 61 

Queen Matilda wove her tapestry 61 

She was always talking critically and reductively about 

everything that swam into her ken 63 

She was old and feeble and withering (and neglected by 

her relatives more or less) 64 

She raised the hatchet against her poverty 65 

I met him once in Shanghai on the Bund. He was a Jain, 
the first one I had met. I was impressed by his dignity 
and gentleness. He was born in a tiny village near Bom- 
bay 66 
He appeared through the doorway, a burst of thought 67 
At the start her weight was 130 pounds. Later, however, 

she got^ pregnant and went on to gain 68 

End of Robert Ley 69 

Afternoon, with a marine biologist 70 

Can you look back over the years and name the time in 

your life when you were happiest? 71 

Plentiful? I? 7a 



When I heard them 



When I heard them telling the pitiful facts of their lives 

I realized that my life might be pitiful too 

For the first time. They were talking about unappreciative 

wives 
And husbands and children whose affections withdrew 
(If they ever existed) . 

One woman said to me: 
"One October day my father died. 
Then we took him to the family cemetery to be buried. 
The funeral had to go on a ferry boat 
From the mainland to the island where we had lived 
And it rained—" 

And a man told me: "When I got to town 
I called her up for I finally knew I wanted 
To marry her but a servant answered the telephone 
And told me she would be away all day 
At a funeral, taking her father to bury him, 
So I never called back: somehow I changed my mind 
And I think to this day she never knew I called." 



11 



She told me she had become a vaginal earl 



I asked if I might see her but she said no, 
She was much too busy being the Vaginal 
Ear for her husband. 

Being the Vaginal What? 
I asked her, then she explained it all to me: 

She told me she had married a creative artist 

And that at times he was extremely possessive 

Not sexually but just to have her around 

As an audience so he could talk to her 

And tell her what he was doing and what he thought 

And to read everything he ever wrote to her 

And that was practically a full-time job 

For her so she called it "being the Vaginal Ear." 



12 



Her mother (or someone) managed to do something 
to her that made her very much afraid of life 



Or of something— if not life— that is, if life 
Is too general a description of what she feared 
Then I can make it much more definite 
And tell that first of all she was afraid 
Of men— she'd never been out with one alone 
In her life— and she was nearing 37. 

And she was afraid of women— they overpowered her; 

She said she always felt inferior 

When she was in the presence of older women. 

And she said she always felt inferior 
In the presence of younger women "because they were 

younger." 

And animals— she was afraid of animals. 
And of things. Automobiles, for example. She was afraid 

of "just things." 

Somehow she could never forget how dangerously 

She had stuck her head out of the womb and drawn it back. 



13 



Dr. A. B. C. D. left his money to his college 



When a doctor leaves Fifty Thousand Dollars to a college, 
As a friend of mine did recently, I know 
The amount of labor that goes into the gift. 

My friend, for instance, had to work his way 
Through school. No one ever gave him anything. 
Then he worked like a dog as a doctor for fifty years, 
So he must have saved about one thousand a year. 

I never knew him to do anything but work; 
He never took a drink of whiskey in his life, 
He never had a vacation, or played any golf, 
He never went anywhere for a holiday, 
He was entirely devoted to his cause- 
Apart from work he never did much at all. 

The college used his money to start a fund 
That will build a building between two buildings 
And on the architect's plan of the future campus 
They have labeled it "Doctor A.B.C.D. Hall." 



14 



You know what it means to be thoroughly satisfied? 
Well, she was that, and it was the first time. It had 
ne.ver happened to her before in her life. This experi- 
ence she finally told me about. She, was a stenographer, 
born in Idaho. She moved to Indiana when she was 17 
and had worked there for 10 years for one company. 



She was not good looking but she had a nice 
Personality. Which she kept on ice. 

On a Greyhound bus she met a young Diesel engineer 
Who had been discharged that day from the U.S. Navy 
After serving 39 months or so in the Pacific. 

He was going to Chicago. He persuaded her 
Somehow into a small second-rate hotel 
Where they spent the seven days of her vacation 
Mostly in bed, getting up to go out and eat. 

She said it was the best vacation she ever had. 
But it was more than a vacation; it was a conversion. 
After 27 years she stopped living in corners, 
Complained less about the high cost of living, 
And let herself be invited to the party. 

Incidentally she showed more interest in her work. 



15 



Compulsive scholar, extraordinary latinist 



He was always very careful about his dative. 
He was careful about his ablative absolute. 
He spoke in Latin more carefully than a native. 
He said very little that anyone could refute. 

He was in fact a very careful man 
Or had been so at least since we had known him. 
He was careful when he walked and when he ran. 
He gave us little reason to disown him. 

He was so careful, careful about what he ate. 
He was so careful about everything he wore. 
He was so careful in argument and debate. 
He tried so carefully not to be a bore. 
He was so careful about everything he did. 
He never told us what his caution hid. 



16 



He told me that 



He went to the movie house and saw the film 
But it had no continuity for him; 

It was a succession of dreadful images 
Projected in a way that had little meaning 
Across a screen he could not understand. 

The fragments he remembered were horrible, 

Like a nightmare, only (he discovered) 

You can leave a movie by getting up and walking out; 

But it is not so easy to leave a nightmare; 

You have to waken, the terror must be broken 
By some sort of action or the right word spoken 
For the self to hear as it is stumbling 
Around back-stage in the unlighted wings 
Of the over-crowded theater of the mind. 



17 



Now he is running a greek restaurant somewhere 



Something about him was (he liked to think) 
Inscrutable. Anyhow he was a good chess player 
And understood things about the strategy 
Of chess few people know or understand. 

He dressed himself in Homer and all things Greek, 

Food and wine and customs generally. 

He read the Odyssey and the Iliad 

In Greek entire, one every other year, 

The Iliad on the evens, the Odyssey 

On the odds. He told me that meant something to him. 

"The world is always forgetting its own achievements," 

He said. "After all someone must guard the temple." 

His grande forte lay in making Turkish coffee 

And serving it with Baklava, Turkish style. 



18 



People change— they changed 



The inner flame that always has to be there 
Had guttered out— was not there, in her case. 

The fuel or the heat of it had gone 

Or something had gone wrong or was disarranged. 

That was the reason she behaved estranged, 
That was the reason they behaved estranged, 
Each became aware that the other had changed. 

Such is the pure mystery of thought. 

The primitive yearnings had been satisfied; 

Each had lost a portion of his pride, 

Something had survived and something had died; 

The gulf between them had become increasingly wide. 

And so each told the psycho-analyst, "I am bored 
Intellectually and sensationally. Can there be 
Some rescue of appetite from satiety?" 



19 



// you could boil their lives down to a jew words 



You could tell John's whole life story in one word- 
Success; and Joseph's story in another word— 
Defeat; or you could describe Christina as 
A masochist while Henry is a sadist. 

But alas those are only alliterative sounds, 
Symbols to represent the most complicated 
Facts and ideas ever known to man! 

Or, if not known, then are supposed to exist 
In principle, represented by verbal terms, 
Glib terms for the novel and the novelist: 

Masochism, the way Christina reacted to life, 
Sadism, the way Henry treated other people, 
Defeat that Joseph managed to achieve, 
And, last, the sun-swept windy spacious level 
Of success which was John's answer to the devil. 



20 



// he could do something he really enjoyed himself 



He did not feel the day wasted at the end, 

Or, if he could do a favor for a friend, 

A kindness or something useful, he did not feel 

The jars of love unopened on the shelf, 

That Alice in her long surrealist 

Trip down the rabbit hole was drifting by. 

Or, if he could do something every day 
That was constructive (A little was better than none 
And on some days actually a good deal occurred ) — 
Then he felt he was living at his best. 

But on some days he felt he accomplished very little 
Which was truly the case, and it always saddened him. 
Then he thought of Inner Mongolia, unvisited, 
And mountains on the horizon, gray and dim. 



21 



He said that he was in a mood for angels but he never 
got to see them after all 



He was in a mood for talking to angels, 

Nothing they might have said could have surprised him. 

He was ready to go up and deal with them; 
He had no fears. He was not afraid of losing 
His money, his keys, or knowledge of how to get back. 

He was not ashamed of the old clothes he was wearing 
Or the fact that under his fingernails there was black. 

He was just himself. He was just a simple fellow, 

A merchant, a student, a lawyer, a clown in yellow 

And red; the occasion was momentous and he was there! 

Such a situation could get in anyone's hair 
Only nothing would happen— he could see that from the 

start. 

The angels never came, perhaps their train was delayed 
Or the delegation of them did not depart. 



22 



Mrs. Broderick was a very unusual woman 



But she was different from what most people thought. 
They called her a hard woman, sinister, 
But she was neither sinister nor hard; 
That was a grotesque reputation nearly 
Forgotten now by those who crossed her yard. 

Actually she was extremely sympathetic. 
Once when two Italian laborers were correcting 
A leak in her cesspool she had a pitcher of lemonade 
Sent out from her kitchen. They were not expecting 
Such thoughtfulness; their gratitude was pathetic. 

And another time she got up in the middle of the night 
To pour ice water over some lobsters that 
Were waiting in a sack to be boiled (alive) the next day; 
She was a very unusual woman that way. 



23 



His Problem 



It was funny about him and the way he wrote 
Anything that came into his mind; 
It was not as though he hesitated to speak, 
It was not as though his inner eyes were blind. 

He told all he could, but much he could not tell, 
Not because of the subject matter or things like that, 
He never hesitated to write down anything 
For he was concerned beyond subjectivity, 

Describing life minutely in detail, 

The fact, the act, the sensation, the experience, 

Much as a scientist would describe a spider, 

Pick the object up with tweezers of words, 

To hold it under the magnifying glass 

Of eternity. Therefore he never got through. 



24 



He never had much fun. He was afraid to — he took 
such a severe attitude towards his body 



He never enjoyed the various parts of it 
As certain individuals normally do: 

His feet— the pleasure it is to walk on them, 
His hands— the inward joy of making things, 
His mouth— all it contributed to appetite, 
His stomach— a nice warm furnace glowing within, 
His behind— a comfortable spot on which to sit. 

Not to mention a number of other convenient things, 

One particularly that has an ancient name, 

That most men enjoy, discover early in fact 

By virtue of a very well-known act 

That is rarely (properly) executed alone 

A source of pleasure to many (and reproduction), 

With other benefits not to be mentioned here. 



25 



When he was through telling me, it was not hard to put 
the points of his memory on a chart and to draw the 
curve of his craving: 



He met her on a streetcar; she had on 

A red hat. That was the reason he noticed her 

At first. He was wise to women and their ways 

Or thought he was; perhaps he was actually not 

But after spending three years in a Japanese 

Prison he decided he was not choosy 

And would take what he could get and this looked nice. 

He was so positive he did not look twice 

But went straight over, moved in and sat down. 

Then he became aware of other points 
That interested him: she had electrifying 
Eyes, dark brown with coal black eyelashes 
That made him think of jet on his mother's hat 
And seams of anthracite in a West Virginia 
Coal mine where he had worked before the war. 



26 



Item: murder 



The details of the individual's state 

Are not complicated as some suppose; 

It is humanity in the aggregate 

That blares the trumpets and so red the rose. 

For individuals are minuscule, 

The rules that operate them are simple indeed; 

I did it because she said I was a fool; 

I did it because I needed chicken feed; 

They said explaining behavior: why he shot 
His mistress; why she broke the children's bank. 

The marshes where they found the body were shallow, 
The pools were dim, the grass was sour and dank; 
They wondered how he dragged the body there 
Unless he did it by her heavy hair. 



27 



Walter's demise 



On such and such a day at so and so, 
I remember Walter when he died; 
He was an aged merman, as you know, 
An aged merman (with a tender hide) . 

Walter was in his once-enormous bed, 
Now that he was old it seemed to shrink; 
Walter had shrunk too, now he was small, 
And more convenient, nearer to the brink. 

His ancient sister puttered around his bed, 
She was solely intent upon his dying, 
She would not let them give him medicine, 
She was not distressed over him, or crying, 

All she was interested in was his funeral 

And who would preach, which minister should she call. 



28 



His life was cut out for him [by himself) 



He knew exactly what he planned to do. 

I never saw a man more definite. 

He had been like that since I had known him. 

Nobody, he said, was ever going to own him: 
"I'm my own boss, responsible to myself 
For my own time, and nobody else, that's me!" 
He said and planned his life accordingly. 

Monday he always did a certain thing. 
Tuesday he always went to a certain place. 
Wednesday he always saw a certain person. 
Thursday he always attended to a certain matter. 
Friday he always checked a certain fact. 
Saturday he always performed a certain act. 
And Sunday morning he always went to church. 



29 



Lucretia is a spinster, very much 



I respect Lucretia very much 

She has led an almost immaculate life, 

She has always paid her grocery bill, 

She has always been cheerful, she has never complained 

But she has various troubles I could mention. 

If she would acknowledge them. But she is inert. 

She misses the meaning of mortality 
And she has never heard of Nefert-iti. 

She is five feet and four inches tall; 

She subscribes to the National Geographic Magazine. 

Eventually she answers all her mail, 

She feeds the sparrows and pigeons that come to her door, 

And she has a tender spot for hungry tramps 

But she never learned to drive her automobile. 



30 



There was something magical about her house, some- 
thing reminiscent of a story book 



That told the legend of the magic purse 
That always held a coin no matter how 
Often it was opened; or the quern stone 
That always ground a certain amount of salt 
No matter how much was taken; or the loaf 
Of bread that grew no matter how many slices 
Were cut from it; or the pitcher that refilled itself 
No matter how much wine was poured from it. 

These legends, well-known items in fairy tales 

Reminded me of her refrigerator. 

Her home, her kitchen, her endlessly refilled 

Pantry shelves and finally her table 

That groaned so under the harvest of her giving 

All her guests could never lighten it. 



31 



Chairman of the social service committee 



Her refuge was always to identify 
With the underdog; it was a habit with her 
That started in childhood; she got off the track 
Of normal healthy feminine development 
At the age of seven, and when she got to ten 
She was thoroughly organized by then 
As interested in the underprivileged classes 
Socially, so she gave benefits for them, 
Card parties at the St. Regis, usually, 
Which netted a small profit occasionally 
For some particular charity involved. 

This gave her a titillation she enjoyed 
After her usual reactions had been cloyed 
By chronic attendance at the Opera. 



32 



Lieutenant X 



When I think about the U.S. Army 

I recall one officer at a certain fort 

Where I was stationed once; he was a clerk. 

His day was filled with routine office work 

But he was a gentleman and a human being 

Inscrutable. There was not any seeing 

Who he was or by what odd report 

He was assigned there. He was impersonal, 

A man of dignity in the arsenal. 

His very aloofness was enough to stir 

Minds into questioning: where had he learned 

The quiet essence of his manliness 

In overcoming, supervising chores. 

What lay behind the wall of reserve in him? 



33 



Two Sisters 



They were two sisters sitting together at lunch 
And I knew both of them, have known them both 
For many years, for practically all of my life. 
For I had always lived where they had lived 
And I knew the truth of what they both had told me 
At different times which was in essence this: 

One said to me: no man has ever paid 
The slightest attention to me in my life; 
That's why I'm not a mother, or a wife. 

And the other (almost complained) men have always 

chased me, 
I've had to turn dozens down, they won't let me alone 
Yet I must say I'm thoroughly satisfied with my own. 

Two sisters similar in looks, in body build, 
But with some secret difference in endocrines! 



34 



When he was bored, when he had nothing to do, he 
would daydream about the perfect house and carefully 
design its exact floor plan: sometimes in the mountains, 
sometimes by the sea 



Sometimes near both, it was always situated 
In a beautiful setting of natural supremacy. 

It was cool and spacious, it was impervious 
To fire and earthquake and the tooth of decay; 
Sometimes brick, sometimes marble or limestone 
Depending on the location and the climate 
But all the details of its inner construction 
And outward finishing were superfine; 

It was palatial yet it was intimate, 

A combination of all the world's great houses 

Yet like none of them. He spent many pleasant hours 

Designing arcades, balconies, and towers, 

A dream mausoleum for daily occupancy, 

A house to end all houses for all time. 



35 



Locked in a prison with an invisible key 



And surrounded by an almost invisible wall 
Yet very permanent, tougher than thick lucite 
And higher yet than any man could scale, 
He lived, yet he seemed ostensibly to be free. 

Few realized that his apparent liberty 
Was his considered acceptance of his plight 
And that the day turned into similar night 
For him as regularly as the hands of the clock 
Swept round their course with imperceptible shock 

Except the striking of the literal hours 

That came and went with little difference to him 

Like casual maidens that he never met, 

Never knew as women, never really enjoyed; 

A natural specimen for Dr. Freud. 



36 



He was a different fellow after a few drinks 



He was usually tense and frozen, cold and still 
Until he got a few drinks in him, then 
He turned into an utterly different person- 
Friendly, affable, kindly, genuine, 
And altered as though the warmth of summer itself 
Were flowing through his arteries and veins. 

Nothing was too good for his delight, 
Nothing would ever turn his day to night, 
For he was beaming, radiant and fresh 
As though he did not live closed in the mesh 
Of something that was timid and self-conscious. 

Something that possessed him but would not be named, 
Something that upset his inner peace, 
Something that was deeply a part of him 
From which, for a moment alcohol gave release. 



37 



Colonel Blank 



He was large, he was fat, he was tedious, he was obtuse; 
When he moved his joints would shake loose. 
I had to share an apartment with him once, 
And found it an unpleasant experience. 

For he stayed inordinately long in the bathroom, 

He went in looking like a shepherd dog, 

He stayed there waiting for the crack of doom, 

And came out wearing his bath mat on his chest, 

Only his was natural growth, he was a hairy 

Bull-like man— the opposite of a fairy, 

He was in fact a modern Caliban 

And he was also inconsiderate, 

Rude and obnoxious in the way he ate 

And in the way he disposed of what he ate 

And he left the bathtub filthy when he bathed. 



38 



It was sad about her, she never got what she wanted: 
many ivomen do but somehow she did not 



After years of tension, driving for 

The specified location of a star, 

Finally she reached the neighborhood 

Where they poured the drink and served the food 

She had been yearning for so she applied 

Cautiously and through the proper channels 

For a seat at the table but her request was denied; 

She was pitifully disappointed and cried: 

Is there anything that can be done about it? 

Is there anything I can do I have not done? 

Is there any collusion, is there anyone 

I could have approached but did not? I have tried 

Everything; this is terrible for my pride; 

What have I done that I should be shoved aside? 



39 



There was a lull in the continuum. The continuum had 
been stretched very tight, almost to the point of break- 
ing once but conversation continued naturally 



He said he was trying to find a decent job. 
He said he had an older brother in the Navy 
But he couldn't get in because of one short leg. 

He told me he didn't like women— "they talk too much." 

He said they had been out on a picnic that day. 

He told me that he and his half-brother once 

Had toured the United States on their motor bikes 

"Including every state but Oregon— 

Somehow we didn't manage to get there"— 

That another brother was a successful wrestler 

And that he himself was considered pretty fair 

At boxing. That he had been an auto mechanic 

And would I recommend him for a job 

In Judge Delancey's boathouse? 

I said I would. 



40 



After he died 



He died, then after the passage of reasonable time 

The public stopped associating her name 

With his, then it didn't matter what she did 

So she did it. She got married several times, 

She strained herself through the beds of several men 

So to speak, until finally no one remembered 

She had been his wife; he was remembered separately 

As a solid citizen who died in a certain way 

At a certain time, whereas she (a few years after) 

Was a woman whose name and telephone number were 

given 
By bellhops to travelling salesmen for a quarter 
And sometimes she would come to the hotel 
If she felt in the mood. I never saw a woman 
Descend, reverse so quickly the social scale, 
From respectability to prostitution. 
I doubt that it would have happened if he had lived. 



41 



Let me mention one 



Let me mention an instance of incredible profanity 

Masquerading as sacred under the law; 

Not something I imagined, but something I saw : 

A preacher in fact, and he is not the first 

(Thomas Hardy described one very much like him 

Not to mention the monsters created by Sinclair Lewis) 

But this individual never sang a hymn 

Without remembering the bawdy lines 

He wrote to the same music when in college. 

All his daily mind was at the keyhole 

Of his flesh, his gonads and his endocrines. 

Unusually so, if I may mention it— 

The eyries where his hawk-like soul would sit! 
The dubious footprints that his shoes would fit! 



42 



His was a highly associative mind 



He suffered from creative mentality; 

It was a dreadful thing that kept him up 

And made him struggle when he wished to lie down 

In pools of occasional serenity. 

Mountains were not mountains to him, they were more; 
Mrs. Woodridge was more than a society matron; 
Languages hopped in, verbs conjugated themselves, 
Bicarbonate of Soda became Natron. 

Doing aesthetic violence to simile 

He never could leave well enough alone; 

When a ripple started in the pond 

It never stopped but struck the other shore 

In endless reverberation, mystery, 

A widening curve of inconsistency. 



43 



Life seemed not to age her as it did others 



She was extremely fond of horses and dogs, 

He became an agent for Shell Oil 

After they married, he had to travel a lot 

And they never had any children, I used to see her 

Every day (or nearly every day) 

Riding her horses around or walking her dogs 

Along the birch wood pathways near their home. 

I noticed one thing, that all the other women 

Who married and had children seemed to grow bigger 

And looked older (definitely) than she did 

While she remained small and girl-like (over the years) 

After fifteen— even after twenty years 

She still looked like a young girl with her horses and dogs. 

What was her magic? She never seemed to age. 



44 



She was a very intuitive woman— she said: "You know 
what I mean?" [Something about her face reminded me 
of Anubis). She said: "You won't believe me when I say 
I can tell how pen pie are feeling far away." 



"Some people, that is, not all but those that are close 
To me or those that have been close to me; 

"Even when they are very far away 

I still can feel their presence (in my mind) 

Almost as if they were with me in the same room. 

"It's funny but I can even sense the doom 
That may be hanging over them as they walk; 

"I hear the very breath sounds in their talk 
(All in my mind— I know they are not there 
Alive, in the flesh) I wish that they were there 
And that is what accounts for my feeling them. 

"Their presence you know is intangible and dim 
But clear and touchable if you really love them, 
When you love them, you know, I mean the way I do.' 



45 



You have seen them 



Loiterers on the street, late, after midnight? 

Each is a story, a pathological novel, 

An unwritten epic of frustration and despair, 

Each has a tale to tell, invisible burdens 

Weigh down the shoulders of each one wandering there: 

The prostitutes, pimps and perverts of post-midnight 
In cities, the panderers and the panhandling ones 
Frequenting the side streets off the main thoroughfares? 

Each is a unit in a constellation, 
Not a galaxy of brilliant successful stars 
But a coal-pocket of dark sidereal junk 
Material discarded from the universe, 
The burnt-out residue of interstellar 
Friction and collision and defeat. 



46 



One winter day, while travelling across the State 



Into the washroom of a drab day-coach 
He stepped and set down a battered travelling-bag; 
He was middle-aged and looked very tired to me; 
In his lapel he wore a Masonic button. 

He took out a pint of whiskey apologetically 
And offered me some which I politely refused 
(On the grounds that I had been drinking Coca-Cola 
While reading The New Yorker) . Then he said: 

"I've lost my boy. He died suddenly 

Down at Whitman working on the power dam." 

He said, "You know I never really drink 

But this kind of got me." His eyes were very red 

And filled with tears as he gulped the liquor down. 

"It wouldn't be so hard but my wife's been dead a long 

time. 
He was a good boy, never gave me any trouble. 
He looked like a million dollars in a bathing suit." 



47 



7 found the winter an intolerant and bigoted old woman 
with white hair 



Who had the power of anonymity 
And the dubious gift of going everywhere 
She wanted to. She was very rich in cold 
But desolate when a burst of sun appeared. 

She was rigid, like ice; no glacier 
Stored less heat than her frigidity. 

The winds were her were-wolves and she pampered them 

With hunger and neglect; it was her whim 

To force them out to guard her lonely lawns 

Which were ice floes, surfaced neat and trim, 

After a snow, no ragged, jagged grass 

But every brook and every pond like glass 

Reflecting her disdain and discontent. 

Thus I came to know what winter meant. 



48 



No comment 



I never realized how pitiful life is, 
How tragic the force of destiny can be, 
Until the girl who answered the telephone 
And ran the switchboard on the midnight shift 
At an office building where I used to work 
Committed suicide and they cleaned out 
The little cubby hole where she kept her things. 

It contained one old hat, a pair of overshoes, 
A black umbrella and a cardboard box 
Containing a package of Kotex, a Hershey bar 
(With almonds), several sticks of chewing gum, 
Some hairpins, a rubber band, two safety pins, 
An unused street car transfer, a disc of rouge, 
And a commuter's ticket to the next town. 



49 



His ambition: to have a cocktail named for him. He 
talked about it for years to all his friends but he died 
before his ambition was achieved 



The circumstances were not remarkable; 
While drunk he drove his Packard off the road 
One night about ten miles from Worcester, Mass., 

He struck a 150-year-old Yankee fence 

Of boulders picked from the fields by pioneers 

Where prior to that a glacier had put them down. 

Some of them had been brought from Canada 
By the glacier, some were Nova Scotia stone. 

But anyhow they met and that was the end, 
They met but did not mix, these ingredients 
Of the cocktail he spent his life unsuccessfully 
Trying to find and get bars to adopt. 

I asked him once to define a cocktail for me; 
He said: "a blend of liquors that develops a flavor of its 

own." 



50 



He was only an old clerk but a pitiful sight 



I had seen him there every day for many a year 
At the head office, in charge of the master file, 
Moving about like a character in a charade, 
Like a mute figure in a Greek tragedy. 

He was the keeper of the Master File 

At the head office. He knew it from A to Z, 

He was the soul of respectability. 

He was responsible for filing correspondence, 

He was a savant of the alphabet, 

He was useful for keeping the dusty papers in order. 

All morning long he walked in front of his boxes 
Putting the letters from gentlemen whose last names 
Began with F in the wooden box marked F. 
In the afternoon he filed all letters chronologically 
In the files. The company manufactured buttons, 
Buttons are useful for holding garments together, 
This was all he had ever done, would ever do. 



51 



Barber, conversation with one 



He was perfectly delighted to tell me that Leeuwenhoek 

Was a Dutchman living in the 18th century 

In Holland, without remembering his first name. 

I told him I thought it was Anthony Von or Van. 

He told me he was the first man who saw germs 

And that he had a very crude microscope 

And the people he told about it "thought he was nuts." 

He told me he had had to learn all that in Florida 
Where he was examined to be a registered barber. 

There were 126 questions and that was the first: 

By whom, where and when were germs first discovered? 

He had patented an instrument for extracting comedones. 

And sold a fancy lotion and a pomade. 

He had a nice wife and he never got drunk, he said. 



52 



There is usually a natural reason for everything one sees 
upon the streets— particularly the people one meets 



There is usually a practical explanation 
For each one of them you encounter there. 

See if you can write the questionnaire 
And answer all the questions that arise 
When you face them, look into their eyes. 

Well, that one (pointing to a certain lady), 
Let us take her now as an example. 

Very well, my father told me about her. 

Her mother was a childless married woman 

Whose husband was 20 years older and out of town 

Much of the time. She had a young gentleman friend 

And used to go driving with him in a rubber-tired buggy 

Occasionally down quiet country lanes, 

The horse was slow so he would drop the reins. . . . 



53 



Conversation with Gertrude or as simple as that. She 
was a waitress in a night club in a loquacious mood who 
took it into her head to tell me how she picked her man. 
He's got to he a good spender or I won't go out with 
him. Tell me how can you tell if he's a good spender? 
Oh, I take care to see that he has a fat roll. 



And what else is there about him that appeals to you? 

She smiled, this time with a suggestion of modesty: 

Well I pick a man who has a great big nose 

Or great big hands or very big, long feet 

Because I know if he is big in those places 

He will be big elsewhere, and where I want him. 

Then tell me how do you let him know you want him? 

When I go by his table I rub up against him, 

I rub my behind against his shoulder and back. 

Then he suggests we go to his hotel room. 

We do this and both of us get what we want 

And I get up early and take his money and leave, 

But I never take it all, I leave him some. 

Then I don't go back to that restaurant any more 

But get me a new job and start all over again. 



54 



Woeful Woman 



.... I had a few dollars saved up, that is why 

He married me. Now he gets drunk, comes back 

From beer gardens, sometimes with one eye black, 

He yells and screams, scares the children and starts to cry 

Or brag that he's the best man in the whole 

World because he isn't on relief. 

For my part, I would rather have relief 

And live like a human being without all this grief. 

What can I do— should I beat him? should I brawl? 
Should I leave him or hit him on the head with an iron 

skillet? 

And everyone thinks we are so nicely settled 
And that he's wonderful, big-hearted and good 
But to me he acts worse than a monkey and looks like a pig! 
If I could, I'd throw him in the stove and burn him for 

wood! 



55 



He had something she wanted {or thought she wanted) 



He had something he wanted to give away 
And was looking for someone to give it to, 
To get rid of it anyone would do, 
In fact, he hadn't anyone in mind. 

But she didn't realize that, for love is blind, 
So, when they (accidentally) happened to meet 
(Because they both were walking in the same street) 
She took it personally, and very much to heart. 

She took it permanently, as an idyllic dream 
In which she was the only one in the world, 
(Not only the first, but also the only one 
And he also, he was the only one 
Although it was not really that way for him) 

And that was why they had difficulty from the start. 



56 



He came to live in a kind of cosmic trance 



That began one morning and ended the next afternoon. 

He was what Popeye would call a goon 

If not a victim of untoward circumstance 

Or providential slips or destiny 

Grown careless or some special laws of his own 

That he in the course of living disobeyed, 

That brought on him a curse of poltergeists, 

Plague and pestilence (in minor ways) 

Theoretically speaking, or figuratively 

Manifested by living in a comfortless house 

With poor arrangements, insufficient heat, 

Bad plumbing and faulty equipment in the kitchen. 

So passed his hours; no wonder he came out 
Infrequently as an unuttered doubt. 



57 



She was a fertile woman, a garden of herself; she lifted 
many species to the sun 



She learned to make a little go a very long way 

And it was remarkable how much artifice 
Entered into her exercise of this. 

The fact became the basis of her art, 
The whole was represented by a part. 

In her development, something remarkably 
Dynamic and creative found itself. 

In her life and in the living of it 
Something very constructive formed itself 
Without supervision, as if immaculate 
In its conception for it seemed to spring 
From nowhere, from no possible visible source. 

In her life always, better came from worse 
As she formed nothing into something where 
A moment before was emptiness and air. 



58 



About once a year he got in all the newspapers because 
of something clever or amusing he said 



I never knew a man so encyclopaedic, 

Practically everything was grist to his mill 

He had a kind of filing system in his mind 

That really worked; he tried to explain it to me 

But I couldn't understand it— it used the alphabet 

And a set of topics (I think 35 of them) 

That included almost everything in the world 

One way or another. You could ask him any question 

And it was like hitting the jackpot on a gambling machine, 

The facts fell out so plentifully and fast. 

The students liked him, he'd been a campus favorite 
For years looming over his quiet Alma Mater 
As the one international figure she had produced; 
An interesting sociology professor. 



59 



Old women sit by the windows waiting for 



The rustle of a skirt along the floor, 
The budding of a lilac by the hedge, 
The clogging of the gutter, a loose brick, 
Watching for the postman (Will he bring a letter?) 

Oh, that toast is good, this butter is better! 
Will you have some coffee? Have you any stamps? 
I have finished the knitting, have you any more 
That I can do? Will you pay the paper boy? 

Breakfast is at eight but you can come earlier; 
We are all relieved to have the news. 

The appearance of the birds, a mother bird 

With three young sparrows, the delivery of the coal; 

There is no fuel oil in their automatic furnaces 
But there is plenty of ice in their refrigerators. 



60 



He said: I believe that change is the aftermath 



The aftermath of war is social change— 

I do not know the names they call it by, 

All of them, that is, but it is there 

Measured from ancient wooden to new brick houses, 

Measured from tallow dip to television, 

Measured in piles of receipted bills for rent 

And children crying with fever in the night. 

Far too much of the world is undisciplined 
And too many men pay visits and never return 
Thanks for even a note of appreciation. 

Life is too short and if one ever could learn 
That life is actually shorter than it seems, 
The world might change even faster than it does, 
And equal the rapidity of dreams. 



61 



Queen Matilda wove her tapestry 



Only a wealthy woman could buy so much yarn, 
Only a queen could have so many maidens 
To help her, watch the fire, put on the wood 
For it was begun in winter, quietly, 
Only a woman sewing in a room. 

Queen Matilda took up her needle and thread 
To calm she knew not what anxiety; 
Queen Matilda settled down to sew, 
At first the hours were tedious and slow. 

But she sketched it out on heavy linen cloth 
And once she started, she was even loath 
To stop for meals; work went unsupervised, 
But the King and all the nobles were not surprised 
For they knew the ingenuity of Queen Matilda. 



62 



She was always talking critically and reductively about 
everything that swam into her ken 



The more beautiful the day the more hopeless it appeared 
Because of the hopelessness of her situation. 

She was that way; her personality 
Was drab, depressive, trivial and soggy; 
Nothing ever lifted her out of herself, 
She was a deep hole in which she lived, 
A kind of pixie, with a worm's-eye view 
Of everything, not my idea of a woman 

For everything was bad, or going to be bad, 
Nobody, nothing, ever was any good, 
Everyone would cheat you, take advantage 
Of you continually, according to her 

So when it was a bad day, that was all right 

But when the weather turned fine, then she felt worse. 



63 



She was old and feeble and withering [and neglected 
by her relatives more or less) 



She was a spinster, of old Yankee stock, 

The type that found New England a wilderness 

And left it something indescribable 

But different, of course, from what it one time was, 

Massachusetts, Connecticut and Maine 

Were what her forbears fought for as their Cause 

(The textile industry, manufacturing, 

Fishing and transportation, peculiar laws) 

Now she was old, neglected and alone 
And rich as anything, her neighbors said, 
Suddenly she found Unitarianism distasteful, 
So she became preoccupied with the Trinity 
And various sins for which she should atone 

She became a convert then to the Church of Rome 
And left it her possessions and her home. 



64 



She raised the hatchet against her poverty 



It was interesting, the way she buried it, 
She buried the hatchet, a few feet at a time. 
She bought her sugar meagerly, a dime 
Was enough to spend for it, and bacon too, 
Fifteen cents worth always used to do 
For her breakfast in the morning. 

Part of it 
Was that they never had any more money to spend, 
Poverty was the song that did not end, 
A broken contraption no one there could mend. 

One cannot go at twilight in these times 
To houses where the right word will be spoken, 
To places where panes of glass are never broken 
Where there are no divorces, no defeats, 
Only rich milch-cows with flowing teats. 



65 



/ met him once in Shanghai on the Bund. He was a 
]ain, the first one I had met. I was impressed by his 
dignity and gentleness. He was born in a tiny village 
near Bombay 



He witnessed the Mopallah Rebellion in 1925, 
The Civil Disobedience Movement in 1931 
And felt altogether quite disturbed about it, 
He longed for the day when India would be united 
And yearned for the day when India would be free. 

One day he explained his religious beliefs to me: 
"Almost every living thing is man's brother; 
We do not harm any form of animal life, 
Even the smallest insect." He told me 

"We are always very humane to women and children 
And once when we were good we were very large 
But that was approximately a billion years ago; 
Now mankind is regressing and growing smaller, 
Ultimately men will be only one foot tall." 



66 



He appeared through the doorway, a burst of thought 



He spoke for a long time. It was all about 
"Open covenants openly arrived at." 

He said that he had recommended it before, 
Almost two thousand years ago, he said, 
But the world was not yet ready for it, then, 
And still might not be ready for it now. 

But mankind might as well accept the goal 
And have it on the horizon to work toward 
Because if people did not do that then they would 
Be working in the darkness towards nowhere 
And that was the same thing as being in a desert 
Or on an ice floe, and at the same time, 
Lost in the dark, which is one way of describing 
What has been the fate of mankind, up to now. 



67 



At the start her weight was 130 pounds. Later, however, 
she got pregnant and went on to gain 



Eula was doing a few things she should not be doing 
With several young men, one in particular, 
In Millville where her parents happened to live 
And she was 18. This was not the first time for her. 

So she stopped on the street at a penny-weighing machine 
That also told fortunes on a little white card 
That printed the weight on the front, the fortune on the 

back. 

s 

She adjusted it to the question Is he serious? 

She stood on, dropped in a penny and pulled the lever. 

Out came the answer: Yes, if you take him seriously. 

Next she asked it the question: Are they watching me? 
It answered Yes, they are and you'll be caught! 

Finally she asked it: Do they talk about me? 
The machine was coy this time, it answered You'd be 

surprised! 



68 



End of Robert Ley 



Like a trapped animal, rather than face trial, 
Doctor Robert Ley hanged himself 
Making a gallows of a towel and a plumbing pipe. 
He once insisted that he found strength through joy. 

Thus to his end in a cell at Nuremberg, 
Aged fifty-five, came Hitler's labor chief, 
Cheating allied justice like a thief, 
Poison was inaccessible; no vial 
Of cyanide was possible for him 

So naturally for him a toilet seat 
Became his final, the siege perilous . . . 

Many Nazi party patterns might be called 

Anal by the psycho-analyst: 

"Brown" shirts, "evacuation" and the "purge." 



69 



Afternoon, with a marine biologist 



He picked up a handful of sea-urchin shells 
And asked if I knew the Dome of Tamurlane 
And showed me one beneath a microscope. 

There the arch was strong to stand the strain 
And thus the turrets of mosque and minaret 
Were built by this design that men had borrowed. 

The architects had copied the sea-shell 

While lesser men had plundered and women sorrowed 

In tents as walls were razed and cities fell. 

Tamurlane copied the shell meticulously 
To build its tower. 

But no one can tell how 
These creatures plan their shells and lay their eggs 
He said "the question every philosopher begs . . ." 

Then we stopped to watch an osprey strike a fish. 



70 



Can you look back over the years and name the time in 
your life when you were happiest? 



Yes, one summer, paddling a canoe. 

Yes, in a meadow when I was a child, 
There was a field of daisies back of the barn. 

Yes, the winter we spent in Washington, 

Just before the United States entered the war. 

Yes, the time we lived on Beacon Hill. 

Yes, it was that Easter in Bermuda. 

Yes, it was my last year in Central High School. 

Yes, it was as a little child by the fire. 

Yes, it was before my mother died. 

Yes, that year we lived in Budapest. 

Yes, that night we met in Rockefeller Plaza 
And went to a night club, then to your apartment 
After swimming and dancing naked on Jones Beach 
In the moonlight. . . . 

71 






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